Tag Archives: books

Book Review: Those Who Wait by Tanya Marlow


I picked up this book based on the review of another blogger. When I ordered the book I was impatiently and anxiously awaiting my dissertation results – waiting isn’t something I’m very good at. Although by the time I started the book I had received my results, I still found myself in a sort of limbo. I had spent the last three years of my life working towards this big goal of getting my Masters, and when it was all over I felt a little bit lost. I’m still figuring out what I want to do next – I kind of have an idea but I’m not really sure how to get there – so I am still waiting on God, His timing and his answers to my questions. All of which to say, this book came at exactly the right time for me.

I started reading in the middle of November, and was soon overtaken by the season of Advent, which was perfect as Advent is all about waiting. Although you can read this book at any time of year, it is set out for daily reading through the Advent season, and has an appendix at the end for group study.

The book retells the stories of four Bible characters from their own perspective. These are based around the four Advent candles (one version of this) – the first section is Sarah (wife of Abraham) representing the Patriarchs; the second is Isaiah, for the prophets; the third is John the Baptist and the fourth Mary. Each section is broken down into five chapters, and at the end of each the biblical reference is given to provide the context for the story. There are also questions for reflection. The final (sixth) chapter of each section gives more questions and also a couple of creative reflection activities. There are also prayers and Benedictions, and suggestions for music to listen to, to help you reflect further on the story. Some of these activities are included in the Group Study guide in the final appendix. The first appendix also gives theological and historical context in which Marlow explains some of the narrative choices she has made.

I really needed and loved this book. Marlow’s prose is beautiful, and really brought the characters to life in a new way for me. I loved Sarah’s story, mainly because I spent a good part of the summer reflecting on her story from Hagar’s perspective and it was helpful for me to be reminded of how much of a victim Sarah is as well (Abraham was not a great husband, really. It’s also good to be reminded of just how flawed our biblical heroes really were, and how greatly God used them in spite of their serious flaws. Gives me hope!) But I think my favourite section was Isaiah’s story, as I have rarely thought of Isaiah the person. There are so many memorable and powerful prophecies in the book of Isaiah that I have never really thought about how it would have felt for Isaiah as an ordinary man, to speak these amazing words from God but yet not see their fulfilment. I found the prayers and creative reflections to be useful tools for working through some of my own issues. I only flicked through the group study section, but will be recommending the book to my homegroup for next Advent.

I said at the start that I am not very good at waiting. This book highlights that waiting is not easy and it is often painful, but that it is worth it and that God is in it – He is working even when we can’t see it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is waiting on God to fulfil His promises, whether large or small. I certainly will reread it many times as I think it is a lesson I will need to keep learning.

One song was going through my head much of the time I was reading this book, as it ties in so closely with the theme. It has become one of my favourites of the last year. I hope it speaks to you too.


New Year’s Resolutions Part One – Reading and Writing Goals

2017 was a big year for me. I turned 30, moved back out from my parents’ house into one I partially own, and completed the final part of my Masters, including a 15000 word dissertation.

You may have noticed that one of the things to take a back seat in the last year was this blog, as I while I was studying I just did not have the time to spare on writing for fun, and since finishing my course in October I have needed to give my brain a rest. But I miss all the writing, the stringing together of words in new and meaningful ways. So one of my goals for 2018 is to get back into good writing habits. I intend to post on here a lot more frequently than last year – I’m aiming for at least once a week. I’m also working toward more variety in what I post. I want to practice more creative writing, but also review more books and films, to share some of what influences me creatively. I would like to share some reflections from what I learnt from my course, and get back into blogging my Bible studies. So look out for a more eclectic mix of posts from me in the future. I hope you enjoy what I have to share. I recognise that some of that might not appeal to you, dear reader, but I hope you find something that you like and stick with me for the rest, as there might be something that surprises you. I don’t know. I am still trying to find my voice and work out what kind of a writer I am.

Outside of the blog, I also had several novels I was working on before I had to put them on the back burner while studying, so I will be reviving them. I’m aiming to finish a first draft of at least one of them before the summer of 2019 (as per my #Next5 goals from 2014) so I will be dedicating time to work on them too.

I haven’t quite worked out exactly how to make myself more disciplined in my writing yet, but it will probably involve setting aside an hour a day for a certain number of days per week for focused writing, on whatever topic. One thing I am definitely going to do is not put off writing reviews – when I read a book or see a film that I want to write about I will aim to get my thoughts down that week while it is fresh. Earlier this year I read a book that meant a lot to me and I really intended to review it, but before I knew it months had passed and I couldn’t really remember all the details that I wanted to share. So no more procrastinating. (On which note, I feel proud of myself as I have already written two reviews today, which I will be sharing here soon! Go me starting my resolutions early!)


One of the delightful aspects of having my own place again was that I was able to unpack all my boxes of books that had been in storage for three years. Unfortunately this has also lead to an explosion of my TBR list, not helped by my addiction to buying books (I bought over 50 books this year, and was given around 30, not to mention ones I’ve borrowed from the library. My Goodreads to read shelf currently has 549 items on it). So, as I am severely running out of shelf space, I recognise the need to not buy more books next year.

The slight problem with not buying ANY books (other than that I don’t think I could cope with going cold turkey) is that one of the greatest joys of my life this year has been discovering the #Ninjabookcommunity – I subscribe to the quarterly #Ninjabookbox and have loved discovering more great independently published books through #Ninjabookclub. Of my top three books of the year, one was from a #Ninjabookbox (Star Shot by Mary Ann Constantine, published by Seren books) and one was our #Ninjabookclub pick for November (How to Be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill, published by Salt). The third I received from my partner in the #Ninjabookswap (The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James, although I don’t know if the publisher Walker books are independent as that was not a requirement of the swap and I can’t find the list at the moment).

So instead of cutting out bookbuying entirely, I will be attempting in 2018 to only buy ninja-related books – as in, they are in the #ninjabookbox, for #ninjabookclub or bought on a #ninjaorganised bookshop crawl (which I am hoping to take part in). I’m aiming for less than 20. The ONLY exception will be if I can stick to this until December I will treat myself to J.R.R. Tolkein’s Letters from Father Christmas as 2018 is also going to be my year for re-reading Tolkien and it will be Christmas.

This means that I am kind-of accidentally taking part in #Ninjabookbox’s #IndieChallenge – to buy more/only independently published books in 2018. I have discovered so many great books this year that I would not have come across otherwise through the Ninja influence that I am now a firm supporter of Independent publishers and want to help promote their books to a wider audience.

I have set other limits for myself as to how many books I am allowed to borrow or reread, but my main goal is to get my TBR list down to a more reasonable amount. I know that one year is not going to make a great deal of difference so I will have to see how long I can stick to this…


So there you have it, my Writing and Reading goals for 2018. I have a couple of other things I want to work on for myself, which I will share in the not-to-distant future.

#30by30 number 30.2 – join a book club

This item didn’t make it onto my original list because I wasn’t sure how I was going to make time to fit it in. But with the wonders of modern technology I have found a lovely online bookish community (which counts, as far as I’m concerned). And I fear that a couple of my other tasks may not be quite achievable so adding extras will hopefully cover the ones that get missed…


I came across a blog talking about ninjabookbox late last autumn – it originated in a Kickstarter campaign which I was immediately gutted I had missed out on. Ninjabookbox is a book subscription service – every quarter subscribers receive an independently published book and a number of related gifts – the amount of gifts vary depending on your level of subscription. I was intrigued by the idea and so I signed up for the mailing list. Shortly before each box goes on sale its theme is announced, so as soon as I heard that the next box was ‘A Shakespearean mystery’ I couldn’t resist ordering the mini box (the book and one gift), you know, just to see. I was so enamoured when I received it that it wasn’t long before I signed up for a recurring mini box subscription. I also found out that there were a few of the original box left, so I quickly got myself one of those too…

So I have now received three of the quarterly boxes and have loved all three books – my first was The Bookman’s Tale, the Shakespearean mystery in which an antiquarian bookseller is launched into a complex tale of bribery, forgery, and danger when he comes a cross a Victorian watercolour which looks exactly like his late wife. The first book (and the second one I received) was Star Shot – an instant winner with me because it is set in my favourite city of them all, Cardiff. The story is a bit surreal, and follows various characters who stories beautifully overlap as they try to make sense of a web of silence that slowly seems to be seeping across the city. The third box came in May and I just finished the book this weekend – Dragon’s Green – a fantasy novel for children in which the main characters find their hidden strengths and learn the power of friendship, bravery and books. I also gave into temptation and bought the summer special box – A Grand Adventure – which contained three books, and I have just started the first of these.


Part of the idea of the boxes is that there will be a chance to discuss the books with other subscribers, this has yet to find its best format, but I’m already enjoying the engagement with other readers I have found through the forum on the website and on twitter. And its not just about the books in the boxes, for our Summer Reading Challenge we have each picked our own books to read over the summer and encouragements and recommendations have abounded.

My two favourite things about the ninjabookbox are:

  • The books – I have loved each of them so far and they are not books I would have found on my own.
  • The charms – each book comes with a small charm (like for a bracelet) which is linked in some way to the book. For some the link is obvious (the Shakespeare book was a quill) but for others it is only in reading the book that the link becomes clear.


So, hopefully I’ve succeeded in recommending the ninjabookbox to you. If you would like to find out more, head over to their website at www.ninjabookbox.com where you can sign up to their mailing list or buy lots of lovely bookish things in their shop. The August boxes go on sale soon too! (I think there may even be a few summer special boxes left). If you do want to buy anything, you can get a 15% discount by using the code CERI15 – this can be applied to anything except the quarterly recurring subscriptions.



Book Review: Izevel, Queen of Darkness by Kate Chamberlayne


I picked this book up a couple of years ago at a youth camp, mainly out of intrigue. It is from a series called Dark Chapters, which is aiming to provide an alternative for teenagers and young adults to the more horror based YA fiction that is out there, and get them to look to the Bible and consider how God views those things.

First of all, I really admire what the books are trying to achieve. I have read a fair amount of young adult fiction – although I lean more towards the dystopian and fantasy genres rather than the supernatural/horror ones – and they can get quite dark. As I have a teaching/youthwork background, I do sometimes worry about books, TV shows, and films that romanticise the occult, however, the vast majority that I have read/seen do present a battle of good vs evil – with the good generally winning, but also showing the shades of grey. But I do think that a series like this is needed. I dislike when Christians criticise what they see in popular culture without offering alternatives.

So to the book itself. It is a retelling of the story of Elijah taken from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 9. The narrative is well constructed, and all the main points that I remember from the biblical account are there, but with some artistic flourishes, of course.

My main question mark about this book is down to perspective. The story is told (in third person narrative) almost entirely from the perspective of Jezebel (who is renamed Izevel in the book). This did make sense as she is the title character, but actually as the novel progressed it left me feeling rather confused. First, the story covers her childhood – the distant, unloving relationship with her father, the loss of her younger brother etc – all of which evokes sympathy for her. But as the story goes on and she becomes Queen of Israel and starts to do all the horrible things she is remembered for I found it hard to dislike her because of the way she had been introduced. Generally when a book focuses on a central character, it is because the author wants you to see the world from their perspective and understand them, which this book did do, but at the same time it felt like the author was trying to push me really hard into disliking her, which left me feeling conflicted. At the end of the novel, I didn’t know whether I was meant to feel relieved or upset that she got her comeuppance. Maybe I just dislike novels when the protagonist is not meant to be likeable.

Also, because the story is told from Jezebel’s perspective, the prophet Elijah is presented as the antagonist and does not come across as very likeable, which also seems counterintuitive as he is the hero of the biblical account. In fact, most of the characters you feel you should like are presented unsympathetically, or are underdeveloped.

So, generally I feel that the concept of this book and series is good and needed, but I’m not entirely sure it has been carried out successfully in this edition. Although if it encourages a teenager to pick up the Bible then it has done well. I would be interested to read the other books in the series to see if they are executed in a similar way, and I would also like to hear the opinions of some young people who have read the series, although I’m not convinced it is one I would rush to recommend.

Rhi’s Fundraising Challenge


One of the best things about having a blog is getting to tell some amazing stories, even when they are not my own… I have some pretty awesome friends and this week I want to share the fundraising exploits of my friend Rhi. I’ve asked her to tell you all a little of what she’s up to in the next few weeks:

‘As a part of a charity apprenticeship that I’m completing this year with the charity Child.org, I’m running a challenge fundraiser at the end of April. The challenge is called ‘Survive on Five’ and I will be living on £1 a day for 5 days to raise funds and awareness of children living in poverty in Ghana and Kenya. Child.org works to empower some of the world’s most vulnerable children by providing them with access to quality health care, education, water and food. Key projects include HealthStart which teaches life skills, provides family planning information and provides malaria nets and deworming treatment as well as school feeding programmes which consistently provide nutritious meals, helping children not to have to worry where their next meal will come from. As well as my fundraising challenge, I am currently creating a product called Mystery Books which I hope to take around local fayres and events. I will also be running an event in the autumn as well as other fundraising ideas so watch this space’

I personally am very excited about the mystery books, being such a bookworm…! Rhi describes this as: ‘Mystery books are wrapped up books with clues on the front – buy a literary present for yourself and helping children at the same time!’ I understand that Rhi is parting with books from her own collection so they will all come with her recommendation. If you fancy a blind date with a good book you need look no further!


If you want to support Rhi, you can donate here: http://child.org/me/food-fiver-challenge

Book Review: ‘Everyday Isn’t Perfect’ by Dr K.L. Register



I have been following KL’s blog  ‘The Ninth Life‘ for some time now, and I always get a little excited when bloggers I like announce book releases. Unfortunately, I have a strict rule in place about buying books at the moment, so this volume was languishing on my Amazon wishlist for a while until a kind friend spotted it there and bought it for me for my birthday.

If you read KL’s blog, you will probably recognise some of the stories as they have appeared there, but I like having them all in one cute little book that I can refer back to.

My first favourite thing about this book is the title. I didn’t get together with my friends to celebrate my birthday until a few days later. On the way to the restaurant, several of us had been complaining about how upsetting and stressful our work days had been. So a little bit later when I was opening my presents after dinner, and I pulled this book out of the giftwrap, we all had a laugh at the appropriateness of the title on that day. In itself, it is a good reminder that we don’t have to be discouraged when things go wrong, we can just shrug, and say ‘Everyday isn’t perfect!’ knowing that we have a new opportunity the next day.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a collection of short stories, essays and poems, each one no more than a couple of pages long. Some are accounts from her own life, some are entertaining encounters with her patients (she is a dentist), some are more general thoughts on life. I choose to read a couple of ‘chapters’ each evening to make me smile before going to bed, but you could just as easily read one at the start of each day to help put you in a good mood for the day – something I will probably do the next time I read it.

KL writes with honesty, wit and humour. Part of the reason I enjoyed this book is probably because we have a similar outlook on life. Although we have had very different experiences, her writing is very relatable and is full of encouragement to be brave, have faith, and to love yourself. Heartily recommended for anyone who needs a bit of a boost.

(To get yourself a copy, head over to The Ninth Life and follow the links)

Rule of Life and Book Review of ‘God in my Everything’ by Ken Shigematsu


It’s been over a month since I finished this book, so it won’t be a thorough review, more a suggestion that it is a really good book to read if you are a very busy person struggling to fit God into your day to day life.

We were reading this in our home groups at church between May and July this year. We read a chapter or two per week and discussed it together – what we were learning, how we were trying to put it into practice. The book centres around spiritual disciplines, and how to build in rhythms of moments with God into your everyday experience. I found it really encouraging. As someone who doesn’t have a lot of free time, it was a good reminder to REST (which may have been my word for the year and is still something I’m not very good at).

I finished the book whilst I was in Moldova, meaning I missed the last couple of weeks of discussing it with my homegroup, but also that it became part of the general wake-up call I received from God at that time. I’d been drifting slightly for a couple of months in my relationship with God – one of the dangers of theological study is that God becomes just the subject you are studying and there is a tendency to forget that it is meant to be a relationship. I was clinging on because it was a stressful time, but I wasn’t really listening to what He was saying to me. This book, and then my Moldova trip, was God saying, ‘Hang on, are you listening to me? Yoohoo! Over here when you’re ready…!’

I was reading the chapter about outreach on our last day of the girls camp in Moldova. The need we saw in Moldova was a little overwhelming, and at times it was difficult to believe that our efforts would actually make any difference. Then I read this:

‘When we serve we experience joy and find ourselves drawn closer to God, but there will also be times when our efforts feel like a drop in an ocean of human need. Remember, Scripture tells us that our work will not be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Nothing done with and for Christ in this present time will be wasted in God’s future. It will find its way into the new world.’ (p 195)

It was so powerful in that moment that it brought tears to my eyes. I read it out to some of my teammates and we were all encouraged to be reminded that nothing we had done was wasted in God’s economy.

I’ve drafted a rule of life for myself now, simple goals to keep me on track with God, with my health and with my work/life/study balance. I thought about sharing it on here, and maybe I will at some point, but for now I think it’s just for me to keep reflecting on alone. But I encourage you to read the book for yourself and to work on ways to build in rhythms of spiritual discipline into your own life.